Thursday, March 17, 2011

Last Chance, Last Dance -- Ten Players to Watch in the Women's NCAA Basketball Tourney

One of the most satisfying things about watching women's college hoops is that you get a chance to know the players over a long period of time. Nobody leaves early for the WNBA. [To paraphrase a radio jock I once heard, if a WNBA game broke out in my back yard, I'd pull the blinds and go to bed.] And despite the fact that a new young player or two grabs my attention every year (hello Aaryn Ellenberg and Stefanie Dolson), there are those players who I feel like I've gotten to know over their careers. I know their strengths and weaknesses, I've seen them develop different parts of their games. In fact, it feels strange to sit down and watch the tourney without Jayne Appel and Tina Charles this year. In short, this is my last chance to see the players who I have enjoyed watching for several years, players who are dancing for the last time in their wonderful college careers. In no particular order,


1. Deveraux Peters, Forward - Notre Dame. I've written about it many times before, but basketball in the Big East is like a prize fight. Last team standing wins. To win defensive player of the year in this conference, you have to play like a pissed off Dick Butkus. No doubt Peters' 60 steals and 58 blocks helped her win this award, you have to see her to see how disruptive she is on the defensive end of the floor. Plus, she's got the best shooting percentage (.583) on the team.

2. Courtney Vandersloot, Guard -- Gonzaga. I don't get to see as many of the 'Zags games as I would like, but when I do, it is a real treat to watch Vandersloot. She has extraordinary vision. It seems like she has eyes in the back of her head. She moves, ball fakes, dribble-drives and then, as they say in football, she throws her teammates open. I've never seen a better passer in the women's game. She is an assists machine.

3. Jantel Lavendar, Center -- Ohio State. Last year, the Buckeyes were bounced in the second round by Mississippi State, continuing a disturbing trend wherein OSU has lost to a team with a worse seed in the first or second round in four of the last five seasons. I know coach Jim Foster is fed up and I expect Lavendar is, too. She plays nearly every minute of every game and averages a double-double (22.7 points and 10.8 rebounds.) This is her last shot to make a deep run in the tourney.

4. Maya Moore, Forward -- UConn. What can I say about Maya Moore that hasn't been said before? She is a force of nature and while every player at this level is competitive, Moore's competitive drive 'goes to eleven.' Georgetown held her to 6 points in the Big East tourney, so the next day, she took it out on Rutgers. She couldn't be stopped. She has a great chance at going out on top, and the Huskies have been pretty near unbeatable as long as Moore has been in residence in Storrs.

5. Danielle Adams, Forward/Center -- Texas A & M. The thing about Adams is that she is quicker than she looks. Combine that with her tremendously soft hands and she rarely misses chances in the paint. She's really blossomed and grown into her game under Gary Blair. I love watching a player who appears to be having fun, which is another reason I like watching Adams so much.

6. Danielle Robinson, Guard -- Oklahoma. The team that used to belong to the Paris sisters is now totally and completely D-Rob's. She leads her team in scoring, in steals, in assists. Plus, she's silky smooth. Much as I enjoy watching her, she'll need help from Whitney Hand and freshman phenom Aaryn Ellenberg if the Sooners are going to make a run to another Final Four appearance.

7. Angie Bjorklund, Guard/Forward -- Tennessee. Bjorklund lived through the 2009 first round loss and lived to tell. Since then, the Summitt has rebuilt her Vols program back to her usual standards. Bjorklund played the SEC title game with big-time intensity, like she really wanted that number one seed in the Big Dance. Big Time. The big question on Rockytop is, can she and junior Shekinna Stricklen get Tennessee back to the Final Four?

8. Jeanette Pohlen, Guard -- Stanford. Is shooting nearly 42% from three-point range and leads her team in assists. Last year, it was Pohlen's last second heroics that propelled the Cardinal into the Final Four. This year, in handing UConn their first loss since Stanford beat them in the Final Four in 2008, Pohlen was en fuego, draining five three-point shots to lead her team. She played the game of her life. The way the brackets are set up, Pohlen and Stanford could meet UConn again in the final (thank you committee) and if that happens, can she do it again, can she play the best game of her career?

9. Ta’Shia Phillips, Center -- Xavier. The player who's heart was broken because of Pohlen's last minute heroics last year, Phillips is the all-time leading rebounder in the history of the Atlantic 10 conference (and second in the nation with rebounds per game this season.) She's also third in shooting percentage (60.8%). Watch a Musketeers game and you'll lose count of how many put-backs Phillips gets.

10. Victoria Dunlap, Forward -- Kentucky. She's such a smart player and has a beautiful burst of speed. Though they list her at only 6' 1" (only in women's basketball do I ever write things like, 'only 6' 1"'), she can really sky. Can Dunlap and the 'Cats bounce back from the whupping the Vols laid on them? Dunlap has to stay out of foul trouble, has to be on the floor, if they even want to get past the second round this year.


The Juniors
-- Keisha Hampton, Forward -- DePaul; Nnemkadi Ogwumike, Forward -- Stanford; Shekinna Stricklen, Guard/Forward -- Tennessee; Jasmine Dixon, Forward -- UCLA.

The Sophomores -- Brittney Griner, Center -- Baylor; Morgan Stroman, Forward -- Miami (Fl.); Sugar Rodgers, Guard -- Georgetown; Skylar Diggins, Guard -- Notre Dame.

The Freshmen -- Aaryn Ellenburg, Guard -- Oklahoma; Stefanie Dolson, Center -- UConn; Odyssey Sims, Guard -- Baylor.

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